Marathon Muskrat Falls Meeting Between N.L. Premier, Aboriginal Leaders Yields Results

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Indigenous leaders and the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government came out of a marathon meeting early Wednesday touting significant progress made on the Muskrat Falls project.

Premier Dwight Ball announced in the early hours of the morning that an independent expert advisory committee — made up of provincial, federal, municipal and indigenous groups — will be created to monitor the mutli-billion-dollar hydroelectric project in Labrador and look at ways to reduce possible methylmercury contamination.

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Protesters of the Muskrat Falls project gather on the steps of the Confederation Building in St. John's on Oct.25, 2016. (Photo: Paul Daly/CP)

The project is upstream from 2,000 Inuit and other residents in the Lake Melville region, and critics are worried about methylmercury contamination if too many trees are left to rot at the bottom of the reservoir when the 41-square-kilometre area is flooded.

The provincial government also is agreeing to consider further clearing of the Muskrat Falls reservoir if needed.

"Going forward, decisions will be made using science-based research," Ball told reporters after meeting with leaders from the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut Government and the NunatuKavut Community Council.

'You cannot break into or trespass on your own land'

The meeting came after about 50 protesters entered the central Labrador site Saturday and occupied an accommodation complex, prompting Nalcor, the Crown corporation building the project, to remove at least 700 workers from the grounds.

On Monday, the company obtained an injunction naming 22 people occupying the site for potential arrest. The head of Nalcor said in a statement that protesters are risking serious injury, and has urged them to depart the site.

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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball arrives for the First Ministers Meeting in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, March. 3, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/CP)

"You cannot break into or trespass on your own land," demonstration organizer Denise Cole of Goose Bay said to applause from about 40 people gathered at the legislature in St. John's as the meeting got underway Tuesday.

After the meeting, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe told anti-Muskrat Falls protesters to go home because they had succeeded in their goals.

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"If you are still at the site, within or (outside), or if you are still doing the hunger strike, go home," Lampe said.

"I feel that the progress that has been made today will give the Labrador Inuit the opportunity to go back home to your family, your friends, your children, your grandchildren."

Todd Russell, the president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, said he is confident the agreed proposal will minimize the affects of methylmercury and secure his community's food and culture.

"The decisions that will be made, going forward, will not be at the whim of government," Russell said. "They will be made by science and it will incorporate the traditional knowledge of our people. This is a huge step forward."

Project well behind schedule

Anastasia Quepee of the Innu Nation told reporters that her thoughts have been with protesters in Ottawa and in Labrador.

Supporters have been gathering around the Human Rights monument in Ottawa for Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister, who have been staging a hunger strike there in efforts to draw attention to the Muskrat Falls dispute.

The project is well behind schedule and over budget. Estimated costs have soared to $11.4 billion from $7.4 billion four years ago. First power has been delayed until 2019.

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